Poison Study (Study #1)
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Publisher: Mira, 405 pages
Publication Date: December 1, 2008 (first published June 1, 2004)
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear.
What's not to like? Kick-ass heroine? Check. Swoon-worthy bad-ass guy? Check (He's an assassin). Drama, danger, intrigue, magic? Check. Check. Check. Check.
This is the first book of a series (that's already completely done, no waiting--yay!) and I loved it. The book starts with Yelena being in prison, about to be executed for murder (and in this world, it doesn't matter if you killed someone by accident or self-defense). Valek, swoon-worthy bad-ass assassin (he was described as having black ringlets, don't know about that, so instead I just pictured John Snow from Game of Thrones), gives Yelena the choice of being executed or becoming being the food taster for Commander Ambrose (apparently a lot of people try to poison him). So of course she chooses to be a food taster.
Valek teaches her how to recognize poisons from smell and taste. He's rather ruthless and cold at first, but as Yelena (and we) get to spend more time with him and know him, he definitely thaws and you realize that there is a lot more to him than it appears. Their relationship develops slowly, which I loved. There are subtle indications in the book that Valek has feelings for Yelena, and it's really well done.
There's a lot of danger for Yelena. You see, she killed General Brazell's son so he is not a happy camper that she was not executed. Also, she seems to have magical abilities, and in Ixia that is punishable by death. So that's a problem.
It's obviously hard for Yelena to trust anyone (including Valek, who a lot of the time acts like the only reason he cares about her and doesn't want her to die is because it's a lot of work to train a food taster). There are some wonderful secondary characters (Janco and Ari are two soldiers who train Yelena to fight) and they are great. Yelena slowly but surely learns to trust and becomes stronger over the course of the novel (both mentally and physically).
The ending does have a resolution, but there are definitely adventures to comes for Yelena. I am excited to read the rest of the series! Great fantasy!